Living with Christ in the Shadow of the Cross: A Lavish Offering (John 12:1-8)
Living with Christ in the Shadow of the Cross
“A Lavish Offering”
A family sat down at the dinner table following Sunday morning worship.
“The sermon was boring today,” the teenage son said.
“Yeah, could you believe how the preacher stumbled over the reading of the Scripture?” his sister chimed in.
“I’ve got to admit that it was an uninspiring day,” Mom said. “The singing was terrible.”
Finally, Dad showed his leadership, said, “Hush, you guys. Quit complaining. What did yo expect for a dollar?”
In this series of studies, we are “walking with Christ in the shadow of the cross.” We are looking at events from the last seven days of Jesus on earth and asking ourselves what we can learn from those events. Because of His nature and His focus, Jesus set a better example for us in His last seven days than most people set in seven decades of life.
I am pulling events from each of the four gospels, rotating from one to the other in turn. That brings us to the gospel of Joh. In this study, we will see the importance of a life of service to the goal of evangelism. We’ll do that with John’s presentation of the anointing of the feet of Jesus in John 12:1-8.
John places the account of this event just after the conspiracy to kill Jesus (11:47-53) and Jesus decides to no longer walk publicly among the Jews (11:54). John also informs us that the Passover was near. Also, at the end of chapter 11, the religious leaders want the Jews to report to them where Jesus is, so they could seize him. Also, if you notice at 12:10-11 that the chief priests wanted to kill Lazarus also because many people were believing in Jesus because of his resurrection from the dead. The woman anointing the feet of Jesus in the middle of these hostile intentions reminds us that we need to stay focused on what is good, right, and important in this world, despite the environment in which we live.
Let’s feed on the word of God…
WE EXPRESS OUR LOVE THROUGH SERVICE - 12:1-3:
Our healthcare workers have put their lives on the line to serve those with Covid while others have served those sick with contagious diseases, but they do so because of their love for a fellow human being. Most of our acts of service, however, do not call us to put our lives on the line. It simply calls us to put others before ourselves.
John tells us that this event happened 6 days before Passover (12:1). John also tells us that this woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. They are in Bethany near Jerusalem. Lazarus and Mary and Martha are all there as well as some of His apostles, if not all of them.
Then Mary finds it in her heart to take an alabaster vial of very costly nard; she breaks the vial, and pours the nard over the head of Jesus.
John tells us that this nard was about 12 ounces, a Roman pound. It was an oil that was extracted from a plan out of East India. So, it was very expensive. In fact, when the apostles grumble that the nard could have been sold, they estimate its value at 300 denarii (ver. 5). Since one denarius was worth one day’s salary, we’re looking at nearly a full year’s salary that could have been obtained by selling this perfume.
You could imagine spending your annual salary on a bottle of perfume? And then just pouring it all out at one time?
The most expensive thing we can offer to Jesus Christ is ourselves. That’s what Paul meant in Romans 12:1-2 when he said that we need to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. When we become Christians, we offer our hands in service to God; we offer our mouths in service to glorify God and teach His gospel to others; we offer our feet to God to go where He needs us to go.
John tells us that the whole house was full of the fragrance of the perfume (12:3). Paul teaches us that we give off a “smell” of Jesus Christ when we follow Him (2 Cor. 2:15-16). How do we smell in that regard? If we love Jesus and we are living His gospel in our lives, we are going to give off a “Christian scent” everywhere we go. We don’t act one way at church and another way at work; or one way at home and another way at school. We give off the fragrance of Christ wherever we are.
Now, just like Mary, we express our love through service. Now, we also notice that our acts of service given to God are not always going to be appreciated, even by those who claim to also love Jesus Christ! Some of the apostles of Christ - the other writers tell us - who were there - and Judas Iscariot is specifically named by John (12:4) were indignant that Mary would serve Jesus like that! Notice it is not Lazarus or Martha - Mary’s siblings - but Jesus’ apostles who are indignant! This word means to snort or roar and it is used for horses. Maybe that gives you an audible idea of what sounds they were making, as they scolded Mary.
The apostles think the perfume would be better used in giving to the poor. Certainly God command the Israelites to give to the poor. Today, many people think it is better to give to the poor than to give to the church. While the church does help the poor - through our food pantry for example - the help the poor need more than anything else is the gospel message in their hearts and the church is obligated to provide that as well as food in the stomach.
Notice in verse 6 that John notes that Judas Iscariot was a thief and yet he had charge of the treasury for the apostles, and he had the practice of “pilfering” what was put into it. Now that raises some questions that we can’t answer. Why did Jesus know that Judas was pilfering and let him get away with it? Why didn’t Jesus confront him? Did the apostles - like John - know that he was pilfering; why didn’t they say something about it? At least as far as the apostles were concerned, maybe they found out about it after resurrection of Christ. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to him after the day of Pentecost. We don’t know. That’s why it is so important to have trust-worthy men, and to have more than one, who takes care of the church’s funds. I heard from an elder years ago who served with another elder who, come to find out was stealing money from the church.
No, everyone is not going to appreciate your acts of service. Even some Christians might not appreciate your acts of service. But regardless, the next point we observe next is that…
OUR SERVICE WILL BE RECOGNIZED - 12:7-8:
In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul encourages Christians that even in our secular lives, we are serving the Lord and we will receive a reward from Jesus Christ. Our service will be recognized. Also in Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus promises that if we give a cup of water to a little one who believes in Jesus, we will be rewarded by Jesus.
Let’s see what Jesus says here. First, He scolds His apostles for bothering Mary. Second, Jesus states that she has done a “good deed.” The apostles did not understand it. They did not see the gift from Mary’s perspective, nor did they see it from Christ’s perspective.
Third, Jesus states that, in their interest to help the poor, the poor would always need help. There will never be a time when any society will not have poor people.
Jesus’ point to the apostles is that they will always have the poor to serve; but they will not always have Him. Not only was He going to be killed and buried, but eventually He would raise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Their opportunity to serve Him was then. Our opportunity to serve God, to show Him that we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are willing to love our neighbor as ourself, is here and now - in this lifetime.
Fourth, Jesus told His apostles that Mary has “kept it for the day of His burial.” We don’t know where Mary got such expensive perfume. Maybe it was a gift to the family from a wealthy politician. Maybe it was a gift from their parents or a previous generation. But she had it and she gave it to Jesus. Fifth, Jesus states that Mary has anointed His body for burial. Is that what Mary actually had in mind? If so, then Mary understood the death of Christ perhaps better than His apostles. It might be that Mary had something else in mind; maybe she was just being nice to her dear friend, for raising her brother from the dead. If that is the case, then Jesus simply reinterpreted her actions and put them into the light of His coming crucifixion.
The apostles, as we all know, did not help get Jesus’ body ready for burial. The women stepped forward and did so. Two men outside of the twelve apostles - Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus - helped with His burial. But the apostles did not help. They were hiding in fear!
As we walk with Christ in the shadow of the cross, here we see that Jesus will reward our service. We don’t need to get burned out doing good. In due season, we will reap a reward if we do not lose heart (Gal. 6:9).
SERVICE GOES TOGETHER WITH EVANGELISM - Matthew 26:13:
Here, I need to bring in Matthew’s account because Matthew records a statement Jesus made that John does not record.
Any time Jesus says the word “truly,” He really wanted to emphasize what He was saying. In all four Gospel accounts, Jesus says “truly” 108 times! A lot of those are repeats from one Gospel to another. But the point is, Jesus really wants to emphasize this next statement. It’s got to be the reason why this event is recorded for our instruction…
“Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world…” As we all know, the word “gospel” refers in its most narrow definition to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It can also refer more broadly to everything about Jesus and all the teachings from Jesus. But, it can also refer, ultimately to the whole Bible. Everything in the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 have connection to the gospel message. When that message is preached all over the world, Jesus says…
“what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Just like I’m doing today. Evangelism and service go hand in hand. We talk about the gospel - that’s evangelism; and we serve others - that’s evangelism. Service to non-Christians is “pre-evangelism.” We’re softening hearts and earning peoples’ trust. Because, as they say, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
When we show people they are important, through our acts of service, then they will be more likely to listen when we try to teach them what God’s truth is. We really can’t have one without the other.
Julian Lennon wrote of his dad: “He was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could not show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son.” Julian Lennon was abandoned at age five by his father, Beatle John Lennon.
Julian continued: “How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”
The same point is true about the gospel. We can talk about loving others and serving others, but if we don’t put that love into action in both service and teaching the gospel, we’re not being true and honest with ourselves. As they say, “Talk is cheap.” We need to do.
Take home message: Let us put our lives where our mouth is. We need to give our lives as a living sacrifice that we might serve others and bring the gospel into their lives.